SAN JOSE -- Tomas Hertl's season-ending knee injury likely wiped out what little remained of the Sharks' slim playoff hopes, and a change in mindset was palpable ahead of their game against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning at SAP Center on Saturday night.
"We know we got a lot of hockey left to play," San Jose interim coach Bob Boughner said following Saturday's optional morning skate. "We talked about that this morning about how we want to approach these next two months of hockey. Obviously, we've been kicked-in a little bit with the injuries and you have two choices how you want to handle that, and I think we're going to go with the option two where we're just going to come to the rink every day and we're going to work hard together. We talked about being more detailed than the opponent, structure and all those things. We can control our compete, and those are the things we're going to concentrate on."
Hertl will have surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee on Monday after an awkward collision with two Canucks players in the Sharks' 5-2 loss to Vancouver on Wednesday. It was actually a fairly similar kind of collision to the one that ultimately fractured Logan Couture's ankle in a loss to the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 7, which will keep the captain sidelined for several more weeks.
Couture and Hertl are not only San Jose's arguably two best forwards -- they're also the Sharks' top two centers, and their combined absence leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the ice. While there will be some positional adjustments to help fill the void, the injuries to Couture and Hertl also have created chances for lesser-established players to prove themselves.
"It's opportunities for young guys," Boughner explained. "[Barclay Goodrow] is going to go back to center. We feel that he's very responsible in his own end. He's a two-way guy, he's got detail to his game, so he's going to have to see a lot of the big lines, especially at home. But the other guys -- you've got [Joe Thornton] and [Antti] Suomela and [Joel] Kellman and even [Dylan] Gambrell can play some center, he'll take some draws on the right side -- those guys are getting an opportunity, and it's up to them to obviously show us what they can do and what they have, and I think it's up to the veterans as well to be very professional in how they handle the situation. Stay positive and let those guys lean on them a little bit, because they were all in that position at one point in time, too. So, it's got to be a group effort."
Clearly, San Jose's approach has changed since the start of the season, but that's bound to happen after a combination of terrible luck and poor performance. The playoffs are all but out of the picture now, but Boughner insists there is still plenty left to build towards.
"There's going to be some mistakes made and there's going to be some mismatches at times," Boughner said, "but we want to make sure that we're being patient and we're developing and we're improving and we're teaching. ... As much as I'm asking the veterans to do that, it's the same with the coaching staff. I think that we have to make sure that we realize what we have and what we're trying to do here in the next 30-plus games, and make sure that we're sticking together on that."
This is not the position the Sharks expected to be in, to say the least. This season has turned out to be a transitional one from the start, and the injuries they've endured have only cemented that fact.